You’ve worked in a variety of positions for AIG over the past 19 years; what have been the vital learning points from each role you’ve been in?
Nineteen years sound like a long time! I was fortunate to hold various roles within AIG Travel to make the years go by more easily.
My earlier roles focused on solutions delivery, which gave me an appreciation for how a partnership is brought to life. I learned what’s needed to go from a RFP win to the first policy sold, from identifying opportunities to technical and operational implementation. This early experience still informs how I approach business development and client management today – making sure the team can deliver what we promise while collaborating with various stakeholders to make it happen.
My regional roles gave me exposure to business ownership since AIG encourages an entrepreneurial approach to management, and my leadership roles helped me learn to be more effective in creating value through structure, organization and people development.
What does your role involve on a day-to-day basis?
The Head of Global Programs is a client-facing role, but my team also acts as our clients’ advocates within AIG. We represent AIG’s motivations to our clients, in the context of what’s beneficial to them, and vice versa.
I’m fortunate to have a strong team, supportive management and good collaboration between our internal and external partners. My day-to-day is dynamic and usually involves interacting with these different stakeholders – aligning strategic priorities, project-specific syncs, operational syncs, internal coordination, and a lot of problem solving. I played video games growing up – in addition to giving me a good sense of direction, video games honed my problem-solving skills. I look at a project milestone as another type of puzzle that needs to be solved.
The rest of the days are filled with the usual tasks – financial projections, business planning and internal management reporting, amongst other things.
How has the way in which travel insurers partner with travel or financial services providers changed for the better over the past few years?
It certainly has changed over time. We were one of the first insurers who approached online partners, and in those earlier days, we had to explain how selling travel insurance was similar to how fries were sold with burgers. We went from convincing our clients that travel insurance is a viable ancillary product using a fast-food analogy to where we are now: working with sophisticated clients who have long-term strategic visions for their travel insurance programmes and operating in a highly competitive marketplace.
In addition, while ancillary service and additional customer value have always been part of our client proposition, it’s encouraging to see the continued and accelerated partner focus on travel insurance’s contributions to their customers’ experience and to their measurement of customer lifetime value.
Did Covid travel shutdowns and the lack of sales of travel insurance sold through airline partnerships mean that AIG Travel is considering expanding into other affinity partnership options as distribution channels?
A diversified distribution channel has always been part of our core strategy, so we have always been in conversations with various types of affinity partners. The impact of the pandemic to the travel experience certainly accelerated these conversations. In addition, more and more affinity segments are finding travel insurance complementary to their customer propositions.
Which region of the world has the most challenging and interesting travel insurance market?
Each region presents its own challenges and opportunities. What I find fascinating is understanding, almost anthropologically, how customer expectations and market dynamics today continue to be shaped by the early days of insurance distribution, how travel insurance entered each of these markets, and each market’s unique travel industry dynamics.
These insights give us a better understanding of why a particular strategy works in one region, but doesn’t necessarily work in another, and how we can adjust to make it work. We’re always learning.
You’re now based in New York; is there still plenty of opportunity for growth in the US travel insurance market, and have you seen the uptick in awareness of cover that other providers are reporting?
In my opinion, yes, absolutely. Coming from a predominantly APAC perspective, where most customers demand comprehensive in-trip benefits, coverages, and services – I’ve been amazed at the scale of the US travel insurance industry that is primarily focused on trip cancellation. Pre-trip coverage for the travel investment is an important, albeit small, part of what travel insurance can do for customers. And as noted earlier, this focus is a response to US-specific and historical market dynamics.
It’ll be interesting to see if the increase in coverage awareness impacts US customers’ demand for in-trip comprehensive travel insurance products. That shift can certainly spur further growth in the US market long term.
Recruitment and retention of talent in the travel insurance sector is an ongoing challenge for everyone at the moment; how do you approach it in AIG?
Thankfully, recent events have not directly impacted my team, but I certainly see it in other aspects of our operations. My philosophy for both recruitment and retention has not changed drastically.
I recruit to bring specific experiences, expertise, complementary working styles and management philosophies, and skillsets that don’t necessarily have to come from the insurance or travel insurance space. We’ve been able to bring in travel industry, technology or marketing experts who successfully thrive at AIG.
For retention, our team tries to communicate, understand and facilitate ways to address each team member’s personal motivations. What do they work for? What helps them open their laptops with clear eyes or go to work with light feet? What do they enjoy working on? A fulfilling job and career mean different things to different individuals.
How has AIG’s marketing approach changed as peoples’ travel habits change?
Our marketing and sales messaging are designed to be relevant, and data driven. This approach helps us respond to changing travel habits and concerns. We collaborate with our partners to use customer insight and data collected at various customer touch points – not just at point of sale, but also at point of claim.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
My job would be such a chore if it wasn’t for the people I deal with daily. While not the most original response – kind, good-hearted, trustworthy, interesting people really do make my job more fun. The years of service shared by the AIG Travel team is a testament to that claim.
I also enjoy how we’re involved in multiple industries – insurance, assistance services, travel, and technology. I might be a tad biased – but these interactions with other industries make the travel insurance line of business a lot more exciting.
You’ve lived all over the world for your professional career; where did you enjoy living the most?
My wife and I miss life-long friends and favourite restaurants from all our stops. We had a great time living in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur before moving to the US in 2017.
We currently enjoy living in Brooklyn. One of the few good things resulting from the pandemic was the reminder that New Yorkers are a resilient bunch – with neighbours coming together to help each other out. Around the corner from where we live, there was a brass band that played free concerts on their stoop to keep spirits up when music venues were shut down. Down the street, we have a community fridge for residents to donate food and its almost always full. They also introduced ‘open streets’ on weekends, where stretches of city blocks were closed to car traffic and opened to pedestrians to support local businesses and participate in community-organised events.
Brooklyn has such a great vibe and energy. It shines brighter when you need it to. We love calling it home.